A Distilled DiGrassi

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Introduction

This is intended to be a distillation of Giacomo DiGrassi’s True Art of Defence, targetted specifically for use in SCA rapier combat. DiGrassi was writing for people using real weapons in life-or-death situations; SCA fighters will need to tone some of his moves down in the interest of safety. Also, DiGrassi is assuming a right-handed fighter; he gives no specific instruction for lefties. Whenever possible, I have tried to generalize the instructions (i.e., "forward foot" rather than "right foot"), but I make no guarantee of their overall applicability for left-handed fighters.

Most of this work is a condensation and modernization of DiGrassi’s original instructions. I have tried to keep my editorial opinions to a minimum, except in places where I find the original text unclear. Editorial opinions will be contained in square brackets: [thus].

Definitions

Most of DiGrassi’s writing is understandable, if difficult for the modern English reader. Some of the technical terms will require a bit of explanation, however. I am assuming a basic familiarity with rapier combat and its terminology.

  • Broad Ward: A stance with the rapier held to the side of the body, at roughly shoulder-to-waist level, pointing in at the opponent.


Guardia larga Broad ward.JPG
Figure 1. DiGrassi's Broad Ward, from the original Italian printing of his manual.


  • Compass: A semicircular step with the rear foot, pivoting off the front foot, and moving to the opposite side (i.e., a compass with the left foot will start with the left foot behind; the left foot moves in a semicircle to the right, the body turns so the back is presented to the opponent). Used to avoid a blow, and generally in conjunction with a thrust. See Figure 2, C to G.


Digrassi paces italian1.JPG
Figure 2. DiGrassi's paces, from the original Italian printing of his manual.

A to B: the straight line.
C to D: the straight (or full) pace.
C to E: the slope pace.
C to F: the half pace.

C to G: the compass pace.

[Note that the feet are reversed in this illustration--the right hand is forward, but the left foot is forward. I think that in this position, it would be very difficult to do either the slope or compass pace as shown. I suspect the artist goofed, and nobody caught it at the time.]


  • Half Pace: A half step. The forward or rear foot moves to a position even with the other foot. See Figure 2, C to F.
  • High Ward: A stance with the rapier held at head level or above, pointing down at the opponent. "Being the very same which every man frameth at the drawing of the sword out of the sheath."


Guardia Alta High Guard.JPG
Figure 3. DiGrassi's High Ward, from the original Italian printing of his manual.


  • Low Ward: A stance with the rapier held down, usually just outside the knee, pointing up at the opponent.


Guardia Bassa Low Ward.JPG
Figure 4. DiGrassi's Low Ward, from the original Italian printing of his manual. Note that the fighter on the left is holding his blade "without" his knee, while the fighter on the right is holding his "within" his knee.


  • Reverse: A backhand edge blow, delivered with the forward edge of the blade. [For a right-handed fighter, the blade starts from the left side of the body and moves horizontally to the right. Not an SCA-style "inside edge" blow.]
  • Right Blow: A forehand edge blow delivered with the forward edge of the blade. [For a right-handed fighter, the blade starts from the right side of the body and moves horizontally to the left.] Also referred to as a "downright" blow. [Although that may mean a right edge blow moving from high right to low left.]
  • Slope Pace: A step where the rear foot moves at a 30° to 45° angle to the straight line between a fighter and his opponent. Used to gain ground while avoiding an attack. Sometimes called a "crooked pace." See Figure 2, C to E.
  • Straight Pace: A full step. The rear foot comes forward, past the other foot in a straight line. (Or vice-versa). In other manuals, called the "passado" or "long step." See Figure 2, C to D.
  • Time: In this context, how long it takes to perform one action. A parry followed by a thrust would take two times, for example. DiGrassi considers proper use of time a critical factor in fighting.
  • Void: To move the body out of the way of an attack, usually to one side or the other by means of a compass or slope pace.
  • Ward: When used as a noun, it means a stance, such as "high ward." When used as a verb, it means to parry an attack.
  • Within: A blade position where your blade is to the inside of your opponent’s (and consequently his is to the inside of yours, assuming you are both standing with the same side forward.) In modern fencing terms, "quarte."
  • Without: A blade position where your blade is to the outside of your opponent’s (and his is outside yours, again assuming that you are both standing with the same side forward). In modern fencing terms, "sixte."


General Principles

DiGrassi considered five points crucial to rapier fighting:

  1. That the straight line is the shortest, and therefore should be used to make the quickest attacks.
  2. "He that is nearest hitteth soonest."
  3. Circular blows (i.e., edge blows) have more force in their extremity than near the center of the circle.
  4. "A man may more easily withstand a small than a great force."
  5. "Every motion is accomplished in time."

Based on these principles, DiGrassi has a few general rules:

  • Under most circumstances, a thrust is preferable to a cut. Using his Wards, the point is already in line for a thrust; while a cut usually involves moving the point off-line.
Single rapier.JPG

Therefore a fighter who moves from one of the Wards to make a cut can be hit with a thrust before the cut is completed. [DiGrassi’s cuts are generally employed after some other move, when the blade is already off-line, or in good position for a cut.] Also, a thrust does more damage for less effort than a cut does.

  • When parrying a cut, parry it on the forte of the attacking blade, when making a cut, hit with the outer third or quarter of the blade.
  • Your stance should always be on-guard (i.e., point aimed at the opponent). Pulling back to deliver a blow, stopping or moving the body unnecessarily will lose time, and the opponent can hit first.
  • When using single rapier, always stand rapier side forward.
  • The foot should follow the hand; don’t stand with the right hand and left foot forward, for example.
  • Keep the back foot in line with the hand and rapier. This reduces your target area.
  • That blow is best (whether point or edge) which spends the least time.

There are three basic techniques of defense:

  1. Block or parry the attack, using your rapier, dagger, cloak, etc.
  2. If the opponent is making a complicated attack, or one that requires a long time, a straight thrust will hit first.
  3. Avoid the attack by using a slope pace or compass, and then strike. (This is usually used in conjunction with a block or parry.)


Single Rapier

Single rapier 2.jpg


Single Rapier, High Ward, Offense

The best attack is an overhand thrust. Step forward a half pace with the rear foot, step forward a half pace with the forward foot while thrusting strongly. Recover to the low ward.

If the thrust is parried, throw a right edge blow from the wrist at the opponent’s head, while making a compass with the rear foot.

If that blow is parried, throw a reverse from the elbow while making a slope pace with the rear foot.

All edge blows should be drawn or slid, once they hit the opponent, because the drawing action increases the effect of the blow. (For SCA purposes, simply treat it as a standard draw cut.)

Following the reverse and draw, make a half pace with the forward foot and discharge a thrust underneath.


Single Rapier, High Ward, Defense

To defend against the previous attack, start in the low ward. Parry the initial thrust to the outside [right] and make a slope pace with the left foot while keeping the point aimed at the opponent. With luck, the opponent will run upon the point. If not, make a straight pace with the right foot with a thrust, a slope pace with the left foot, and another straight pace with the right foot with a thrust.

For the edge blows, either thrust in under them, or parry the first blow to the high left, compass with the left foot, and thrust at the opponent’s face. For the reverse edge blow, parry to the high right, make a left slope pace and thrust with a right straight pace.


Single Rapier, Broad Ward, Offense

The best attack from this ward is a straight half pace with the rear foot, and a straight half pace with the forward foot while thrusting under the opponent’s blade. Recover to the low ward. It is possible to use the same footwork with a right edge blow, but not recommended.


Single Rapier, Broad Ward, Defense

Start in the low ward. If the opponent throws an edge blow, use a thrust to hit him first. Or for right edge blows you may parry to the high left and throw a reverse at his face. Step forward with a "half slope pace" and recover to the broad ward. This move also works for thrusts.

If he throws a reverse, take a full straight pace, grab (or open-hand parry) his sword hand, and hit him with a thrust underneath.


Single Rapier, Low Ward, Offense

This is the best ward for defense, but it can’t be used to initiate cuts—your rapier is too far off line, and invites preemptive thrusts. Therefore, the thrust is the best attack. Make sure your stance is such that you do not need to draw your hand back before you thrust. If your opponent parries to the high left or right, make a straight pace while raising the blade to high ward, make another straight pace and thrust.


Single Rapier, Low Ward, Defense

For a thrust within, beat the blade to the left, make a left foot compass and reverse to the opponent’s face.

For a thrust without, beat the blade to the right, make a slope pace with the left foot, a straight pace with the right foot and thrust.

DiGrassi says that the edge blows are so easy to block in this ward that it is not worth speaking of them.

Rapier and Dagger

Rapier and dagger.JPG


Rapier and Dagger, General Principles

  • The dagger should be used to defend the left side down to the knee; the rapier should be used to defend all the right side, and the left side below the knee.
  • When blocking, use the dagger against the forte of the rapier; use the rapier and dagger together against the foible, especially when defending against edge blows. [Yes, this contradicts modern fencing physics.]
  • Hold the dagger with the arm mostly straight, point toward the opponent.
  • Always parry to the outside: dagger to the left, rapier to the right.


Rapier and Dagger, High Ward, Offense

There are two stances, rapier forward or dagger forward.

If in the rapier forward stance, attack with a half pace of the forward foot and a thrust. Recover to the low ward.

If in the dagger forward stance, attack with a full straight pace of the rear foot and a thrust. Recover to the low ward.

Edge blows are not recommended in this ward.


Rapier and Dagger, High Ward, Defense

Use the low ward with the rapier forward. There are three types of parries: rapier only, dagger only, and both weapons. For all three parries, use a slope pace to void the body away from the blow in conjunction with the parry.

For dagger only, [assuming the dagger is in the left hand] make a slope right pace, parry the blow to the left, make a straight pace and thrust underneath.

For rapier only, make a slope pace to the left, parry to the high right and make a dagger thrust to the opponent’s temple. Or you may pick up the parry with the dagger, make a straight pace and thrust with the rapier, but "it is very commodious to strike with the dagger."

If using both weapons, make a slope pace away from the attack and parry with both weapons. Hold the parry with the dagger, make a straight pace and thrust with the rapier.


Rapier and Dagger, Broad Ward, Offense

Again, don’t use edge blows from this ward. It spends too much time and exposes you to a preemptive thrust.

To attack, beat the opponent’s rapier away with the dagger, make a straight pace and thrust with the rapier. [DiGrassi doesn’t say anything about foot position here, but judging by the hand movements, I would assume that you start with the dagger side forward.]


Rapier and Dagger, Broad Ward, Defense

Stand in the low ward. You may use the same three types of parries as in the high ward defense.

For the dagger parry, make a slope pace into the attack, parry it with the dagger, make a straight pace and thrust underneath with the rapier.

For the rapier parry, [which DiGrassi considers "the best of any other"] parry the blade [to high left] and thrust at the opponent’s face while making a compass with the left foot.

Of the two-blade parry DiGrassi says ". . . it is so discommodious and so ridiculous a way, that I leave to speak thereof. . ."


Rapier and Dagger, Low Ward, Offense

It is possible to throw edge blows from this ward, but not recommended.

In this ward, you may stand either rapier forward or dagger forward, although the dagger forward stance is really more a defensive stance.

In the rapier forward stance, you may attack either within (i.e., between the opponent’s blades) or without (i.e., outside the opponent’s rapier or dagger).

If you are within, make a quick slope pace [left foot], a straight pace [right foot], parry the opponent’s rapier with both your blades, make another straight pace [left foot] and thrust.

Or you may beat the rapier to the left, step forward with the forward [right] foot, and thrust at the opponent.

If you are engaged without, step forward with the forward [right] foot and thrust at the opponent’s face. This move forces him to parry your blade to your left, which takes his point off line. Make a slope pace [left] and throw a reverse at his legs, following up with a straight pace [right] and a thrust underneath.

Or you may make a hard edge blow from the wrist [a snap blow], more to engage the opponent’s blade than to hit him, make a slope pace [left], raise the hand and thrust with a straight pace [right].

A third option is using the same edge blow and slope pace, catch the opponent’s rapier with your dagger, withdraw your rapier and thrust underneath with a straight [right] pace.


Rapier and Dagger, Low Ward, Defense

There are four types of edge blows that require defense: right and reversed, high and low.

For a right high edge blow, block the blow with a dagger parry to the high left while making a full [left] pace, make a full [right] pace and thrust underneath. Or you may parry to the high left with both the rapier and dagger, throw a reverse to the opponent’s face and end up in the broad ward.

For a right low edge blow, thrust at the opponent’s forward thigh (which should also block the edge blow) and make a compass with the left foot.

For a high reverse, parry with the dagger to the high right, make a straight pace and thrust underneath. [In practice, this is awkward; it needs a straight pace with the left foot along with the parry, and then a straight pace with the right foot and thrust. This is further borne out by the footwork of the next move.]

Or make a parry with the rapier to the high right along with a straight left pace, and then a thrust (as if from high ward) with a straight right pace.

For a low reverse, thrust at the opponent’s legs. This move should simultaneously defend your legs and hit your opponent’s.

For a thrust within, make a slope pace [left?], parry with the dagger [high right, or possibly with a disengage to take it to the left] then thrust with a straight [right] pace.

For a thrust without, make a slope pace [left?] and thrust with a straight [right] pace.

Rapier and Cloak

Rapier and cloak.JPG


Rapier and Cloak, General Principles

  • The cloak has three elements: length, largeness and flexibility. The first two are variable, the third is inherent in the nature of cloaks.
  • There are two ways to hold the cloak. The first is, if there is time, hold the cloak by the collar and wrap it twice around the arm below the elbow, leaving the remainder to hang. If there is no time for that, simply grasp the cloak by the edge and wrap it twice around the arm, leaving the remainder to hang. [DiGrassi is pretty much assuming a full-length cloak. Wrapping the typical SCA waist-length cloak twice around your arm will leave little or nothing to hang down.]
  • In this one instance DiGrassi recommends a twisted guard (i.e., left hand and right foot forward) to keep the left leg from directly behind the cloak. This is to prevent the leg being hit by a strong edge blow or thrust that would land before it lost momentum in the folds of the cloak.
  • Don’t parry with the arm wrapped in the cloak; use the hanging portion. The cloak should be used to defend from the flank down to the ground on both sides. The rapier should be used to defend the upper torso and head.
  • Block cuts with the hanging portion of the cloak; block thrusts by beating the thrust aside with the cloak or hand and cloak.
  • Don’t parry high with the cloak; your arm may be hit, and you will blind yourself for a crucial instant. Also be especially careful with your footwork in this ward; don’t get your feet tangled in your own cloak because it is dragging on the ground.


Rapier and Cloak, High Ward, Offense

Hold the rapier with the hilt high and the point even with the cloak. Make a half pace with the forward foot, thrust and recover to low ward.


Rapier and Cloak, High Ward, Defense

Start in low ward. There are four possible parries: rapier within and without, cloak within and without.

If the rapier is within, make a compass with the left foot and thrust at the opponent’s face.

If the rapier is without, make a full left pace, catch the opponent’s rapier with the cloak, then make a full right pace and thrust underneath. [There is some indication in the text that the rapier has already begun the parry and the cloak hand is picking up that parry, but it is not clearly stated as such.]

For cloak parries, both within and without, hold the cloak well forward. When the opponent’s point is one handsbreadth inside the cloak, beat it to one side or the other, make a right [half?] pace and thrust underneath. Note that this move requires perfect timing to execute safely.

For a right edge blow, parry with the cloak (but not too high) or the rapier. For a low right edge blow, make a full left pace, ward with the cloak, make a full right pace and thrust. Or parry the cut with the rapier alone while making a compass with the left foot, thrust at the face and end in the broad ward. This same move may be done using both the cloak and rapier for the initial parry.

For a reverse, make a full left pace, parry with the cloak, make a full right pace and thrust underneath. Or using just the rapier, thrust at the opponent’s forward thigh (which should block the blow and hurt the opponent simultaneously.) Or using both, make a pace [DiGrassi says right, but a left pace makes more sense. This could be a typo in the original text.] Parry with both, maintain the parry with the cloak, make a right pace and thrust with the rapier.


Rapier and Cloak, Broad Ward, Offense

First, thrust at the opponent while making a compass with the left foot. Then throw a right edge blow from the wrist, followed by a reverse and a right half pace, followed by a thrust with a [left full] pace.


Rapier and Cloak, Broad Ward, Defense

Start in the low ward, when a thrust comes underneath, make a compass with the left foot and thrust at the opponent’s face. If that misses, throw a reverse at the opponent’s face and pull back the [left, I think] foot, ending in the broad ward.


Rapier and Cloak, Low Ward, Offense

Don’t use edge blows from this ward. Try to sneak a [left] half-pace under cover of your cloak. Beat the opponent’s blade to either side, make a [right] half pace and thrust.


Rapier and Cloak, Low Ward, Defense

Watch out for the devious rascal trying to sneak paces behind his cloak. When he starts to attack, make a slope pace to the left, a "thwart or crossing pace" [not defined—my best guess is a step with the left foot to bring it back to the straight line, setting up for the right pace], then a right straight pace with a thrust underneath.

Rapier and Buckler

Rapier and buckler.JPG


Rapier and Buckler, General Principles

  • The farther the buckler is from your body, the more area it covers. Hold the buckler perpendicular to the line between you and your opponent, but not so high that you blind yourself.


Rapier and Buckler, High Ward, Offense

Use thrusts only; it is too easy to ward edge blows with the buckler.

If standing left side forward, make a full right pace, thrust and recover to low ward.

If standing right side forward, ease the left foot up to the right foot, make a right half pace and thrust.


Rapier and Buckler, High Ward Defense

Start in low ward, parry thrusts to the outside using both the rapier and buckler, with a left full pace, then thrust underneath with a full right pace.


Rapier and Buckler, Broad Ward, Offense

Again, thrust only. Stand right side forward, make a left half pace then thrust with a right half pace.


Rapier and Buckler, Broad Ward, Defense

Start in low ward, when the attack comes, don’t try to ward, just thrust at the opponent’s face with a left foot compass.


Rapier and Buckler, Low Ward, Offense

If standing left side forward, make a full right pace and thrust between the opponent’s rapier and buckler. Or stand right side forward, without. Find the opponent’s blade with your own, make a full left pace, pick up the parry with your buckler and thrust with a full right pace.

Or stand right side forward, within. Make a full left pace, trap the opponent’s blade between your rapier and buckler, make a full right pace and thrust.


Rapier and Buckler, Low Ward, Defense

Start in low ward, for the left side forward attack, make a thrust at the opponent’s thigh or chest, turn the hilt to parry the opponent’s blade and make a left foot compass to void the body from danger.

For the right side forward attack, make a left slope pace and thrust above the opponent’s hand, "upon the which the enemy of himself shall run."

Case of Rapiers

Case of rapiers.JPG


Case of Rapiers, General Principles

  • Ward first, then strike. Ideally, both hands will be equally adept since all of these moves may be done with either hand.


Case of Rapiers, High Ward, Offense

The forward hand should be held in low ward, the rear hand should be held in high ward. As the feet switch positions, so should the hands.

Standing left side forward, beat the opponent’s blades back with the left rapier, make a full right pace and thrust. Raise the left blade into high ward, make a full left pace and thrust.


Case of Rapiers, High Ward, Defense

Stand with both blades in low ward. Match your opponent’s foot position (i.e., left side forward to left side forward).

Cross your opponent’s blade with your forward blade without. Allow your oponent to beat your blade away [to the inside], make a left slope pace (assuming you started right side forward), parry his high thrust with your left blade, make a right straight pace and thrust underneath with your right blade.

Or, when your opponent makes the initial beat, raise the point of your forward blade and parry his high thrust to the outside, make a full straight pace and thrust at his torso with your rear blade.


Case of Rapiers, Broad Ward, Offense

Start with the forward hand in low ward, the rear hand in broad ward. Cross the opponent’s blade without. Press it farther to the outside, make a slope pace, and thrust at his thigh with the rear rapier. The flank or head may also be hit from this position, but the leg thrust protects your own legs from any counterattack.

If the thrust misses, settle into the broad ward with your other side forward.


Case of Rapiers, Broad Ward, Defense

Start in the low ward. Watch your opponent’s stance and mirror it (i.e., right side forward to his left side forward). This voids your body from his broad thrust. When your opponent attacks, make a slope pace and thrust at his attacking shoulder.

[This one is confusing. Playing with it, I think the slope pace is with the forward foot, instead of the usual rear foot. Also, I’m not sure which blade is thrusting. The text says ". . . at what time the enemy (finding the sword [presumably your forward blade]) would come forwards in his thrust. And in the self same time, (assuring himself [i.e., you] with his own low sword) shall increase a slope pace, thereby investing and encountering that part of the enemy which came striking. . ." If the opponent is binding your forward rapier, the thrust will have to be with the rear blade. I’d really prefer a parry somewhere in there, since you are basically thrusting straight into your opponent’s thrust. I’d even settle for one of those parry-thrusts DiGrassi is so fond of; maybe that’s what he means by "assuring himself with his own low sword."]


Case of Rapiers, Low Ward, Offense

Engage your opponent with one blade within and one blade without. Close both of your rapiers on your opponent’s within blade, slide your forward rapier under his trapped blade and thrust. Keep your rear blade hand low and the point up to prevent possible attacks from his rear blade.

Or, if your forward blade is without your opponent’s forward blade, beat it further to the outside, make a slope pace with the rear foot and thrust at the torso or head with your rear blade. Settle in the low ward.

Or, make a slope pace with the rear foot, thrust at the opponent above his rapier with your forward blade, and thrust below with your rear blade.


Case of Rapiers, Low Ward, Defense

As the opponent thrusts, void the body with a "very slope" pace (i.e., almost a lateral step), and thrust at his face.


Falsing

These are basically tricks that DiGrassi recommends more for "exercise and pastime" than actual combat. Many of them would be called "feints" in modern fencing, since they are variations on "fake here, hit there."

Some of the others are:

  • With single rapier, hold the blade on the opposite side of the body (i.e., to the left, for a right hander) pointing backwards.
  • The "hanging ward" where the rapier is held almost directly overhead, pointing at the opponent.
  • If engaged without, make a pace and grab (or open-hand parry) the opponent’s sword arm.
  • Using the point or edge of your own rapier to throw your cloak at your opponent.